The Saints come marching in
Take a right turn on Prospect Street at about 10 a.m. on a Friday morning, follow it all the way until it dead ends. Take a right and you’re at the ballpark, or at least reasonably close to it.
Usually, Peaceful Valley is the home to Heidelberg University’s powerhouse baseball program. But now, it’s home to what is, essentially, another world.
When I arrived at the ballpark Friday morning, there were about 50 players working on drills, hanging out in the dugout, or practicing in the bullpens.
There was Ryan Parent, the manager of the Tiffin Saints, somehow keeping watch over all that was going on.
There was Jacob Zeiter, a former Buckeye Central standout, playing first base.
Zeiter, whose father, Jay, was also his high school principal, has a different job these days.
Jay is set to become the manager of the roving Ohio Travelers, one of four teams in the fledgling Independent Baseball League, which opens next weekend.
Jacob was going through his drills, looking just as confident as he did when he was on the diamond for coach Chad Jensen and the BC Bucks.
But now, instead of working with classmates he had known and played with for years, Jacob was playing in an infield that – excluding him – was all Japanese.
Fifty baseball players. Fifty stories.
There’s Nathan Winston, who pitches with a prosthesis because his left leg was amputated. I talked to him, and was in awe.
There was Ben Tootle, a 2009 third round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins, now trying to catch on with either the Saints’ or Travelers’ pitching staffs.
There was Ernesto Pernales, a shortstop who fled Cuba at the age of 16. When I asked him about being in Tiffin, he said it was different.
“But I like small communities,” he said. “I’m a country boy back in Cuba, so it’s a little familiar.”
Yeah, I liked Ernesto from the start, and immediately started pulling for him and his teammates.
I have no idea what the first season of the IBL will be like, but I have to admit to being a little excited.
So many people from so many different places with so many different stories to tell. In the coming days, I’ll try to relate more about these players, and what the future holds for them in Seneca County.
But deep down I know I’ll only be scratching the surface.
Baseball is an amazing game; it’s not as amazing as some of the people who play it.
This summer, Tiffin is a city that will host an independent baseball team, and young men who still follow their dreams.
It should be an interesting ride, for all involved.